Virginia Cannabis Reform Continues

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Virginia approved cannabis decriminalization earlier this month and continues expanding cannabis and cannabis-related reform. Senate Bill 918/House Bill 1430, recently approved by Governor Ralph Northam, regulates products containing CBD as food: “The bill authorizes the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services to adopt regulations establishing contaminant tolerances, labeling requirements, and batch testing requirements,” SB 918’s description reads. 

In other words, edible and drinkable products derived from hemp—and often advertised as being CBD-related—will now be properly regulated. These kinds of products are already available in Virginia and often the specifics of their ingredients are unclear. While the 2018 Farm Bill differentiated hemp from cannabis and had it removed from the Controlled Substances Act—cannabis remains illegal under federal law—and meant that hemp can be grown and processed, food that has CBD as an added ingredient remains federally illegal. That is because of The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which makes it against the law to put CBD in food. Of course, food products with CBD in them—or purporting to have CBD in them—are for sale all across the country.

The Associated Press spoke to Charlotte Wright, a hemp farmer in Virginia’s Brunswick County who also owns a CBD business, Hemp Queenz, which makes all of its CBD products using hemp they grew. Wright told the AP that SB 918, “gives validity to the CBD industry.” Wright added that currently, “there is no testing required, no labeling,” and customers often have “no idea what is in it.” 

AP also spoke to Kyle Shreve, executive director of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, who echoed Wright’s comments: “If the FDA does not start approving CBD products people are going to take them without regulation,” Shreve said. “That’s what the bill says, we are going to treat them like they are approved by the FDA so we can start regulating them.”

SB 918 also says that “it provides that moneys collected under the chapter shall be deposited in the Virginia Industrial Hemp Fund, created by the bill [and] directs the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry to report by November 1, 2020, a plan for the long-term sustainability of funding for the industrial hemp program.”

In cannabis news, two of the 17 amendments to Senate Bill 02 which decriminalized cannabis, proposed by Northam, were rejected by Virginia’s legislature. One rejected amendment would have made it so that someone charged with cannabis possession (which once decriminalization takes effect would mean they would be given a $25 civil citation) could not request a jury trial. While it is unlikely that someone would ask for a jury trial over such a small fine, removing that ability would in effect, remove a right afforded to citizens by the Constitution.

The other rejected amendment has to do with cannabis legalization. Northam proposed that a study of cannabis legalization for adult use should be delayed from November 30 of this year to November 30, 2021. 

When The Outlaw Report covered the approval of Virginia decriminalization earlier this month, we noted that critics of delaying legalization note that choosing decriminalization over legalization in nearby Maryland has resulted in ongoing racial bias among cannabis arrests. Maryland’s own legalization workgroup convened throughout 2019 only to not recommend cannabis legalization for the 2020 legislative session. The sooner the workgroup convenes and begins to make decisions, cannabis legalizations advocates believe, the sooner legalization is established—and if the workgroup does not recommend legalization, it allows advocates to strategize on next steps.

Virginia flag by Lukasz Stefanski / via Shutterstock

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